WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo by Andy Worthington

by Andy Worthington
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
11 June, 2011

Omar Khadr

Image by 4WardEver UK via Flickr

In May 2008, in a submission to the 48th Session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (PDF), the Pentagon claimed that it had only held eight juveniles — those under the age of 18 when their alleged crimes took place — during the life of the Guantánamo Bay prison. This, however, was a lie, as its own documents providing the names and dates of birth of prisoners, released in May 2006 (PDF), showed that the true total was much higher.

In November 2008, the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas published a report, “Guantánamo’s Children: Military and Diplomatic Testimonies,” presenting evidence that 12 juveniles had been held, and this was then officially acknowledged by the Pentagon.

The next week, however, I produced another report, “The Pentagon Can’t Count: 22 Juveniles Held at Guantánamo,” providing evidence that at least 22 juvenile prisoners had been held, and drawing on the Pentagon’s own documents, or on additional statements made by the Pentagon, to confirm my claims.

Two and a half years later, I stand by that report, and am only prepared to concede that up to three of the prisoners I identified as juveniles may have been 18 at the time of their capture. In the meantime, I have identified three more juvenile prisoners, and possibly three others, bringing the total back to 22, and possibly as many as 28.

My new research coincides with a new report by the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, “Guantánamo’s Children: The WikiLeaked Testimonies,” drawing on the recent release, by WikiLeaks, of classified military documents shedding new light on the prisoners, identifying 15 juveniles, and suggesting that six others, born in 1984 or 1985, and arriving at Guantánamo in 2002 or 2003, may have been under 18, depending on when exactly they were born (which is unknown, as it is in the cases of numerous Guantánamo prisoners).

However, crucially, the UC Davis report chose to make its assessments based on the prisoners’ dates of arrival in Guantánamo, which was often up to six months after their capture, whereas I have focused on their capture date, thereby demonstrating that at least 22 of the 28 prisoners identified in my research were indeed under 18 at the time of their capture.

Of course, to be strictly correct, this analyses should go further, dealing not with the dates of capture, but with the dates when the prisoners’ alleged crimes took place. However, I simply do not have the time at present to go through every file, and, while such research would undoubtedly yield more juvenile prisoners, I am content for now to have reinforced the claims that I made in November 2008, and to have made a case for there having been at least 22, and as many as 28 juveniles held in Guantánamo.

Just three of these former child prisoners are still held, but the US position has always been a disgrace. Notoriously, in May 2003, when the story first broke that juvenile prisoners were being held at Guantánamo, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a press conference, “This constant refrain of ‘the juveniles,’ as though there’s a hundred children in there — these are not children,” while Gen. Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said:

I would say, despite their age, these are very, very dangerous people. They are people that have been vetted mainly in Afghanistan and gone through a thorough process to determine what their involvement was. Some have killed. Some have stated they’re going to kill again. So they may be juveniles, but they’re not on a little-league team anywhere, they’re on a major league team, and it’s a terrorist team. And they’re in Guantánamo for a very good reason — for our safety, for your safety.

Moreover, in May 2006, when the Independent reported on “The Children of Guantánamo Bay,” a senior Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, said that the DoD “rejected arguments that normal criminal law was relevant to the Guantánamo detainees,” as the Independent put it. In Gordon’s own words, “There is no international standard concerning the age of an individual who engages in combat operations … Age is not a determining factor in detention [of those] engaged in armed conflict against our forces or in support to those fighting against us.”

This was nonsense, because, under the terms of Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which the US ratified on December 23, 2002, signatory nations are required to promote “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict,” and not to punish them by imprisoning them alongside adult prisoners in an experimental prison devoted to coercive interrogation and — at its worst — torture.

Despite its obligations, however, only three of the juveniles held at Guantánamo were ever treated differently to the adults — three Afghan boys, Asadullah, Naqibullah and Mohammed Ismail, who were held in a separate camp until their release in January 2004. For the rest, however, there was, or has been no “physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration” whatsoever, and, instead, they have been subjected to torture and abuse, as described by many of these prisoners, “extraordinary rendition” to a torture prison in Jordan in the case of one of the juveniles, Hassan bin Attash, and, in the case of Omar Khadr, a war crimes trial, based on charges invented by Congress. In order to secure an eight-year sentence, Khadr was obliged to agree to a disgraceful plea bargain in which he claimed responsibility for his actions aged 15, during the firefight that led to his capture (and the death of a US soldier), when he was not, in fact, responsible for his actions. He was also obliged to admit that he was an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent” who was not allowed, under any circumstances, to be engaged with US forces in combat.

It remains disgraceful that so many juveniles were held at Guantánamo — and that three former child prisoners are still held — but it is just as disgusting that, under President Obama, one of these former child prisoners was obliged to accept that, in modern-day America, lawmakers and the executive branch, without a murmur of dissent from the judiciary, have arranged for opponents of the US military in wartime to be criminalized, their actions regarded incorrectly as war crimes, and their very existence declared illegal. This is effectively no different than it was under President Bush, when the twisted ideologues who surrounded the President, under the aegis of his dark assistant Dick Cheney, created the concept of “illegal enemy combatants,” people without any rights whatsoever, who could be held forever and tortured with impunity.

The 22 juveniles held at Guantánamo

(i) The three still held

1. Ali Yahya al-Raimi (ISN 167, Yemen) Born 1984, seized December 2001 (aged 16/17). As WikiLeaks revealed, he was approved for transfer from Guantánamo in October 2004, but is still held over six and half years later. As I explained in my article, “Abandoned in Guantánamo: WikiLeaks Reveals the Yemenis Cleared for Release for Up to Seven Years,” the WikiLeaks files reveal 19 Yemeni prisoners approved for transfer between 2004 and 2007 who, disgracefully, are still held.

2. Omar Khadr (ISN 766, Canada) Born 19 September 1986, seized 19 July 2002 (aged 15). After well-chronicled abuse in Bagram and Guantánamo, Khadr, seized after a firefight in Afghanistan, accepted a plea deal in his trial by Military Commission last October, to secure an eight-year sentence, agreeing that he was an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” who was not allowed, under any circumstances, to engage in combat with US forces. The US (under Bush and Obama) and the Canadian government have all behaved appallingly towards him.

3. Hassan bin Attash (ISN 1456, Saudi Arabia) Born 1985, seized 11 September 2002 (aged 16/17). Despite his age at the time of his capture, he was rendered on his capture to a torture prison on Jordan. He was seized with the “high-value detainee” Ramzi bin al-Shibh and is the younger brother of the “high-value detainee” Walid bin Attash (both allegedly involved in the 9/11 attacks), but there is, of course, no excuse for subjecting juveniles to torture because of their family ties.

(ii) The Afghans

4. Faris Muslim al-Ansari (ISN 253, Afghanistan/Yemen) Born 1984, seized December 2001 (aged 16/17), released December 2007. Seized crossing the Pakistani border, he explained that his family had left Yemen when he was a child, and had moved to Afghanistan, where his father had fought the Russians. He was assessed as being “a probable member of the Taliban.”

5. Shams Ullah (ISN 783, Afghanistan) Born 1986, arrived in Guantánamo October 2002 (aged 16/17), released October 2006. Described by his uncle, Bostan Karim (who is still held), as having “a mental problem,” he was shot after US forces raided the compound where he lived, suspecting that it contained insurgents.

6. Mohamed Jawad (ISN 900, Afghanistan) Born 1985, seized December 2002 (aged 16/17, although his family said he was 12 at the time of his detention), released August 2009. Put forward for a trial by Military Commission in October 2007, for allegedly throwing a grenade at US forces in a Kabul marketplace, his Commission trial essentially collapsed when his judge ruled that his confessions had been extracted through torture, and his prosecutor resigned, and he then won his habeas corpus petition in July 2009.

7. Abdul Samad (ISN 911, Afghanistan) Born 1986, seized December 2002 (aged 15/16), released September 2004. One of three (or possibly four) juveniles seized in a raid on a compound owned and run by a warlord named Samoud, who was not captured in the raid (see below for the other two confirmed juveniles). All were treated brutally in a US base in Gardez and at Bagram, where, according to another released prisoner, Habib Rahman, they were abused until they admitted attacking US forces.

8. Asadullah (ISN 912, Afghanistan) Born 1988, seized December 2002 (aged 13/14), released January 2004. See above.

9. Naqibullah (ISN 913, Afghanistan) Born 1988, seized December 2002 (aged 13/14), released January 2004. See above.

10. Abdul Qudus (ISN 929, Afghanistan) Born 1988, seized late 2002 (aged 13/14), released April 2005. He said that he was sold to US forces by opportunistic Afghan soldiers, along with Mohammed Ismail (see below), although he was assessed as having been radicalised by local imams.

11. Mohammed Ismail (ISN 930, Afghanistan) Born 1988, seized in late 2002 (aged 13/14, released January 2004. See above.

(iii) The Pakistanis

12. Khalil Rahman Hafez (ISN 301, Pakistan) Born 20 January 1984, seized December 2001 (aged 17), released September 2004. Like many Pakistanis, he had been recruited for jihad against the Northern Alliance and the US in his home country.

13. Mohammed Omar (ISN 540, Pakistan) Born 1986, seized December 2001 (aged 14/15), released September 2004. Despite traveling to Afghanistan with a friend for military training, it appears that he spent most of his time waiting around, before being captured by Afghans.

14. Saji Ur Rahman (ISN 545, Pakistan) Born 1984, seized December 2001 (aged 16/17, although Rahman himself said he was 15 when captured), released July 2003. He said that he traveled to Afghanistan with two friends to visit shrines in October 2001, but was then captured by Afghans. Perhaps surprisingly, there was no indication that the US authorities didn’t believe his story.

(iv) The Saudis

15. Abdulrazzaq al-Sharekh (ISN 67, Saudi Arabia) Born 18 January 1984, seized November 2001 (aged 17), released September 2007. He was assessed as an al-Qaeda member just a month before his release, although he may, like the majority of those accused of involvement with al-Qaeda because of their attendance at a training camp, have been nothing more than a soldier, recruited to help the Taliban fight the Northern Alliance.

16. Yasser Talal al-Zahrani (ISN 93, Saudi Arabia) Born 22 September 1984, seized November 2001 (aged 17), died in Guantánamo June 2006. A survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre in northern Afghanistan, he died under mysterious circumstances on the night of 9 June 2006, with two other prisoners, as Scott Horton reported last year for Harper’s Magazine (and see my report and updates herehere and here).

17. Yousef al-Shehri ISN 114, Saudi Arabia) Born 8 September 1985, seized November 2001 (aged 16), released November 2007. Seized in northern Afghanistan like his cousin Yousef (see below), he was held in hideously overcrowded conditions in Sheberghan prison, belonging to the US-allied warlord General Dostum, and probably survived a massacre in container trucks, known as the “convoy of death,” before being transferred to US custody.

18. Abdulsalam al-Shehri (ISN 132, Saudi Arabia) Born 14 December 1984, seized November 2001 (aged 17), released June 2006. Like Yasser al-Zahrani, he was a survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, and, with his cousin, was then held in Sheberghan before ending up in US custody.

19. Ibrahim al-Umar (ISN 585, Saudi Arabia) Born 1985, seized 28 February 2002 (aged 16/17), released May 2003. A student at a religious school in Pakistan, he was encouraged to leave the country after the US-led invasion, but was seized at a checkpoint, held by Pakistan’s notorious ISI (Inter Services Intelligence directorate), and then handed over to US forces.

(v) The others

20. Mohammed El-Gharani (ISN 269, Chad) Born 1986, seized October 2001 (aged 14/15), released June 2009. Seized in a raid on mosque in Karachi, he was treated brutally at Guantánamo, but was finally freed after winning his habeas corpus petition in January 2009.

21. Haji Mohammed Ayub ISN 279, China) Born 15 April 1984, seized December 2001 (aged 17), released May 2006 in Albania. One of 22 Uighurs (Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province), who were detained by mistake, as they never had any affiliation with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and were solely opposed to the Chinese government. For further information, see this McClatchy Newspapers interview from 2008.

22. Rasul Kudayev (ISN 82, Russia) Born 23 January 1984, seized November 2001 (aged 17), released February 2004. A former wrestling champion from the Russian territory of Kabardino-Balkaria, north of Georgia, who also survived the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, he was rearrested in October 2005, after gunmen attacked government buildings in his hometown, and was tortured in police custody, despite protesting his innocence. The latest report, in 2008, indicated that he was still imprisoned.

The six additional prisoners who may have been under 18 at the time of their capture

23. Qari Esmhatulla (ISN 591, Afghanistan) Born 1984, seized 10 March 2002 (aged 17, or possibly 18), released October 2006. After telling a story in which he claimed to have been set up by Afghan soldiers while returning from a shrine, he was assessed as being “a low-level Taliban recruit.”

24. Hezbullah (ISN 666, Afghanistan) Born 1984, seized April 2002 (aged 17, or possibly 18), released November 2003. A Pakistani by birth who was listed as an Afghan “because that was where he had been living since 1990 and [he] considered that his home,”he was seized with his cousin after he had helped US forces locate and remove suspect items from the home of a suspected insurgent leader.

25. Peta Mohammed (ISN 908, Afghanistan) Born 1985, seized December 2002 (aged 16/17), released March 2004. Do note, however, that, in the documents released by WikiLeaks, his date of birth was recorded as 1984, which, if correct, would mean that he was almost certainly 18 at the time of his capture. If he was under 18, he was one of four juveniles seized in a raid on the compound owned and run by a warlord named Samoud (see Abdul Samad, ISN 911, above).

26. Mahbub Rahman (ISN 1052, Afghanistan) Born 1985, seized 1 June 2003 (aged 17, or possibly 18), released August 2008. He was assessed in April 2008 as  being “a member of an Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) cell” located in Khost province, having been captured after a firefight with coalition forces, and as a “high risk” prisoner, who was “likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies.” Nevertheless, he was transferred back to Afghanistan just four months later.

27. Sultan Ahmad (ISN 842, Pakistan) Born 1 November 1984, probably seized before November 2002 (aged 17), released September 2004. Regarded as deceptive, he said that he was seized after traveling through Afghanistan to try to reach Turkey. The authorities in Guantánamo suspected that he was “an extremist recruit” in his assessment in November 2003, although he was released 10 months later.

28. Shakrukh Hamiduva (ISN 22, Uzbekistan) Born on 13 December 1983, probably seized in November 2001 (aged 17), released September 2009 in Ireland. He stated that he left Uzbekistan because of religious persecution, lived in a refugee camp in Tajikistan for 18 months, and was then taken to Afghanistan with other refugees, where he eventually worked as a taxi driver, which is what he was doing when he was seized. The US authorities, in contrast, regarded him as a Taliban-affiliated fighter with the Islamic Movement of Tajikistan/Uzbekistan.

In addition, there is a remote possibility that four others were under 18 at the time of their capture. The first is Mohammed Ishaq (ISN 20), a Pakistani. Born in 1983, he and a friend traveled to Afghanistan at the start of November 2001 to find his friend’s brother, who had gone to Afghanistan to fight against the Northern Alliance. Sometime in November 2001, he was seized by Northern Alliance forces in Kunduz, but he would only have been 17 at the time of his capture if he was born in late November or December 1983. Similarly, three Saudis — Ali Mohammed Nasir Mohammed (ISN 172), Tariq al-Harbi (ISN 265) and Abdul Khaliq al-Baidhani (ISN 553) — were also born in 1983 and were probably seized in mid-December 2001, meaning that they would only have been under 18 at the time of their capture of they were born in the second half of December 1983.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

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